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The Natchez Trace Parkway: The History

Updated on July 5, 2019
Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

I grew up near the Natchez Trace Parkway and traveled it 100s of times. Each time was a new journey into our past, and I relished each trip.

The Natchez Trace Parkway

If you have haven't traveled the Natchez Trace Parkway, you've missed out on beautiful scenery and the feeling of traveling in our ancestor's footsteps.

Please take this journey with me, as we travel from Natchez, Mississippi, northward up this historic highway, check out the beauty and feel the history.

A sign near the southern entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway, in Natchez, Mississippi.
A sign near the southern entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway, in Natchez, Mississippi. | Source

The Journey Begins

On the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway is the city of Natchez, Mississippi. It was established by French colonists in 1716 and is one of the oldest European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley. Natchez served several important purposes in the history of the State of Mississippi, as well as the entire country. It was the capital of the Mississippi Territory, and when Mississippi gained statehood, it became the capital of the state until the City of Jackson was named capital in 1822. The city contains many antebellum homes and is noted for its historic district, "Natchez-Under-The-Hill," which in its early days was considered the most notorious town on the Mississippi River.

At the beginning of the growth of the United States, Natchez was the center of trade and exchange of goods between Native American, European, and African-Americans. It was considered to be part of the original old Southwest.

Natchez Trace entrance sign near Natchez, Mississippi
Natchez Trace entrance sign near Natchez, Mississippi | Source

Elizabeth Female College

As we travel up the Natchez Trace, we reach milepost 5.1, where it is believed the very first college degrees were given women in the United States. The college was Elizabeth Female College, and all that remains of the original buildings is a brick wall.

As we continue north on this historic road, you'll find a section of the old Natchez Trace. Its worn condition, which was caused by many footsteps and wagon wheels of old, makes it appear as a ditch instead of a road.

Old Natchez Trace
Old Natchez Trace | Source

Emerald Mound

Emerald Mound, one of the largest Indian ceremonial mounds in the United States, is a flat-topped earthen structure that rises 35 feet high on eight acres along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Emerald was built and occupied between 1250 and 1600 AD by the ancestors of the Natchez People, an Indian Tribe.

 Emerald Mound, a Plaquemine-Mississippian mound site built between 1250 and 1600 CE
Emerald Mound, a Plaquemine-Mississippian mound site built between 1250 and 1600 CE | Source

Grindstone Ford

We are moving north again, but not for long. We must stop at Grindstone Ford/Mangum Mound at milepost 45.7. The National Park Service gives the following information about this stop. "Grindstone Ford - This ford marked the beginning of the wilderness of the Choctaw Nation and the end of the Old Natchez District. Nearby Fort Deposit was a supply depot for troops clearing the Trace in 1801-1802, and troops were assembled here during the Burr conspiracy allegedly to separate the western states from the Union. The site takes its name from a nearby water mill.

The trail to your left takes you takes you to the Old Trace and Grindstone Ford. Riverboatmen on foot or horseback crossed here, northbound, after floating cargo down to Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans. Soldiers splashed across from the north to protect the Natchez District from British and Spanish threats. For post riders, Indians, bandits, and preachers, Bayou Pierre was the line between civilization and the wilderness.

Grindstone Ford Cemetery
Grindstone Ford Cemetery | Source

Turpin Creek

As we proceed north we see the Turpin Creek picnic area, and the Loess Bluff area, where deposits of topsoil where blown during the ice ages. Some tourists stop at Bullen Creek and take the 15 minute, self-guided tour through a beautiful forest of hardwood and pine trees.

A little further up we reach mile marker 41.5, where we stretch our legs on the "Sunken Trace." The Trace appears sunken in this spot due to thousands of travelers walking on the easily eroded loess soil. This short trail will allow you to walk on the Natchez Trace just as thousands have before you.

What the Old Natchez Trace area would have looked like in 1809
What the Old Natchez Trace area would have looked like in 1809 | Source

Daniel Burnett's Stand

Daniel Burnett's stand stood near here. Burnett was the speaker of the Territorial House of Representatives, a principal negotiator with the Choctaws, and a framer of the state constitution but his stand was unpretentious. His guests supped on mush and milk in a room filled with their own gear and Burnett's supplies. From here you may follow their path along the Old Trace to Grindstone Ford."

The Natchez Trace
The Natchez Trace | Source

Journey up the Trace Will Continue

Watch the video below, provided by the National Park ServiceOur journey up the Natchez Trace Parkway will continue with our next segment, which will be published soon, so please stay tuned.

Natchez Trace Compact -

© 2019 Gerry Glenn Jones


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